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  • Writer's pictureKanhaiya Maheshwary

5 ads that sparked an outrage in India - From Tanishq to Tuff Shoes

3 days back, I opened my Twitter to a flood of tweets and related conversations around #Tanishq and #TanishqAd. At first, I thought it was just their social media team out to promote a latest offering, and therefore I read past it. But later on, a chance encounter of a batch-mate's Facebook wall post made me realize it was something much bigger than what I was thinking.

An entire segment of people, influenced by celebrities like Kangana Ranaut, outraged over a perfectly wonderful ad promoting communal harmony. Death threats were given to Tata Group employees, political clout was used, and eventually the campaign was not only pulled back, but also various Tanishq outlets were made to put up apologies outside their stores. This ad marked a very dark chapter in the socio-cultural fabric of India's secular existence. Finally, the ASCI and AAAI, two of India's leading advertising regulatory bodies stepped in and showed their support to Tanishq and Tata Group. They assessed the ads on various parameters and said there was no degree of indecency or insult shown towards any community or religion. In fact, quite the opposite.

This is not the first time that India has outraged over an ad campaign. Given how sensitive we are as a nation, we have (in some cases, unfortunately) got several campaigns banned in the past for reasons ranging from immodesty to blasphemy. Here is a look at 5 such campaigns. I will add my thoughts (if I still have the freedom of expression to) next to each -

Zomato - MC. BC. Campaign

In my opinion, Zomato tried to do the equivalent of Subway's "Sex". Subway had put up a huge billboard on a highway with "sex" written in big font. Sure to draw someone's attention, right? Below it, the billboard's copy read "Now that we have your attention, eat at Subway". It was still a smart play, nothing 'vulgar' about it.

But Zomato crossed the lines of decency by being overt with their copy. Especially, more so because these expletives are extremely derogatory for women, and considered the highest form of verbal name calling in India.

For a company known to deliver tasty food, ironically this was in real bad taste.

Tuff Shoes - 1995

A naked Milind Soman and Madhu Sapre (who were then dating), with a python around their neck caused such an uproar that they had to make rounds of court for 14 long years before the court acquitted them of all the charges. This ad was for Tuff shoes, with the snake being used as a subconscious cue to denote 'toughness'.

However, it absolutely did not go well with the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat and many others, who filed a case under Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act. It saw everyone from the advertisers to the actors, and the publishers to TV channels being booked under various sections.

In my opinion, while there was nothing wrong with this sort of creative expression, it was way ahead of its time considering it aired in 1995. Also, I am not sure whether it will still be accepted, even in 2020, given the state we are living in.

Manforce Condoms - Navratri Ad

Back in 2017, Mankind Pharma did a campaign with their brand ambassador, the once-adult star Sunny Leone. They put up 500 billboards of this ad during Navratri in Gujarat - the festival's very own playground. The copy read, "This Navratri, play, but with love / safely". It sparked a huge outrage by traditionalists who said it hurts the spiritual and religious sentiments of Gujaratis, and Hindus.

I did some research and found out that the condom sales spike by almost 50% during Navratri. If it is such a well established fact, it was a great insight by Mankind Pharma to base their ad on. It was a pretty smart play, and one that didn't deserve any outraging. In fact, if at all, it was necessary in a country like India where population explosion is such a massive problem.

Kent - Atta (Dough) Maker

Earlier this year, Kent came up with a social media campaign for its atta and bread maker. The carousel showed a series of photos talking about how allowing your house help to knead the atta (dough) might be an unwise decision since their hands might be infected. It was immediately branded "classist" and "insensitive" all across social media.

It was wrong on many levels. Firstly, it promoted the notion that workers of a certain category don't maintain their hygiene, or are 'infected' by virtue of their social class. Secondly, in a nation where it is a common-place occurrence to have the house-help knead the dough daily, Kent was absolutely fighting the wrong fight. The Chief Marketing Director of the company later issued a public apology on behalf of the company for "hurting sentiments".

Tanishq - Baby Shower (2020)

This is the ad I started today's blog with. This video does a good job of creating an entire timeline right from the release to the time it was taken down due to selective outrage over social media.

I have already shared my thoughts above, but will reiterate that it was a sad moment in the history of a secular India to see the negative treatment this beautiful campaign received.

What is your take on any of these campaigns, especially the Tanishq one?

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